Awareness and Purpose…
Personal optimism in a going-to-hell-in-hand-basket-world.
by Jack Loughary & Theresa Ripley
In days of yore (Ha! how did that sneak in?) I was known to have written a few “going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket” pieces. These tended to be predictions and forecasts regarding ominous socio-economic conditions that were bound to lead to undesirable situations (And pretty damn soon, too!) unless the country did a better job of getting on top of things. I think I was correct more often than not, but as I became preoccupied with other mundane concerns, such as earning a living, the hell in a hand basket thoughts didn’t surface often. Now, with an abundance of non-encumbered time, they have crept slowly back into my consciousness. For some reason, they made a quantum jump to the forefront of awareness during a recent morning walk and parking lot coin search. The tentative conclusion is that a number of systems in our society have deteriorated to the point where they demand serious revision, replacement and preferably first, reconceptualization.
We easily generated a short list of concerns, all of which you will recognize. The lists includes health, education, transportation, defense, international relations, human rights, labor, commerce, distribution of wealth, and government. Some are in worse shape than others and they vary regarding the ability to self correct if the goals and rules are clear. For starters, the health care system seems to become less sensitive to user concerns and more difficult to implement. Mis-managed care is often identified as the main culprit, with its emphasis on bean counting record keeping and management by clerks at the expense of professional common sense and accountability. Its more complex than that, but if you’ve been hustled through a couple 8 minute mile efficiency appointments at the doctor’s office, you get the sense.
Escalating crowdedness and inept attempts to manage it is another concern at both personal and institutional levels. Being put on hold or connected to a seemingly endless phone menus has become the norm, rather than the exception. Wait, is the operable term. Wait at banks, grocery stores, professional offices, Dairy Queens and McDonalds. Wait everywhere expect when the paying public says No. We’re going elsewhere! Crowds at air terminals have become horrendous. Arriving early, finding a parking spot, standing in the check in lines, and finally the ultimate insult, being told that your flight is cancelled and that you must wait for another. During the summer months, it is not unusual to read that over 100 flights were cancelled on a given day at several major airports. And how about automobile traffic? Major cities are threatening to charge a fee for automobile entrance and street use. Freeway clog and freeze in metropolitan areas are simply expected. Perhaps underlying many of these and other unwanted conditions of modern life is the general growth of societal aggression. Push, shove, crowd, shout, pollution of all kinds, insensitivity to rights of others, narrow mindedness, single issueness, narrow vision, ignorance. What is a person to do!
Part of the solution to any problem, of course, is defining it in such a way that you can work on it. In this sense, I am reminded of a rememberable philosophy professor Bertram Jessup who first made clear the concept of individual verses general pessimism, and optimism for that matter. His point, and at least the beginnings of a solution to the “society going to hell in a hand basket problem”, was that while you may have minimal impact on general conditions, often you can have considerably more over individual concerns. I agree that this is no earth moving revelation, but it is one easily forgotten. Or, at least that is one explanation of why many us continue to whine about our conditions, both general and personal, instead of attempting to manage one’s way to a more satisfying life.
Essentially, the obvious point is that taking care of your personal concerns may be easier to accomplish than setting the world straight. And, if you can do the former, you may have energy remaining to work on the latter. One general guide to personal management, it is the dual suggestion to work at being aware of what might happen to you (prior to it happening) thin of alternative methods to cope with the events or circumstances before they occur. A simple, but often effective means of illustrating the usefulness of this awareness/alternatives idea, is to think of several tasks or responsibilities that you anticipate doing in the near future. Then, for each try to imagine (based on the wisdom provided by your past experience with these or similar tasks) two or three things that might go wrong. Finally, think of simple means by which you might cope with these nasty developments. The answer can be as simple as taking a book, your cell phone, or a magazine to the appointment with your doctor (who will be predictably late), to substituting attending a major sports event that may entail horrendous traffic jams to attending a flick at a local theatre. Or, If your experience tells you that the next meeting with a certain family member might require dealing with a disagreeable topic, then try thinking about (i.e., understanding) the reasons for the lack of agreement and about alternative ways of dealing with the situation. If waiting in lines at the grocery stores irritates you, try shopping early in the day (or later at night). In most situations, a few minutes sharpening your awareness of what might happen and how you could cope with it can be very satisfying. In other words, it can be useful to think and act in the specific instead of the general context.
The dual concept of awareness/alternatives is not difficult to grasp. Thinking ahead about how you can use it can enhance its usefulness. While reducing your concern with conditions in general, enhancing awareness/alternatives each day can lead to greater personal optimism. Eventually, you may be ready to do battle on expanded concerns.
Being Ready Ripley here. Well…goodness, we do have the hell-in-a-handbasket talk which I was initially party to while wandering around and not finding coins. The discussion reminds me of two things. The first is a delightful lunch had with a couple we’ve known for 20 years in their rural setting last week where nary a non-nature sound could be heard. The woman in the couple remarked that after a day’s trip to Portland recently, where traffic is getting almost as bad as Seattle’s, said, “I use to want to go to every museum opening (she having lived on both the East and West coasts), now I just want to stay here.” Perhaps that’s a sign of both she and us aging, perhaps it is something else.
The other comment relates to getting one’s self straight first, as Jack suggested, before working on the world. This is a Chinese proverb I often read:
“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
“If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
“If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
“When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
So…those are our thoughts today, what do they spark in you?